So far, top Republicans are staying quiet about the Sept. 18 protest on the Hill in defense of some Capitol riot defendants.
The Saturday rally defending some rioters arrested during the Capitol insurrection is reminding the GOP of an uncomfortable reality: Part of its base believes the Jan. 6 attack was justified.
Saturday’s rally comes as some conservative lawmakers fan outrage on the right over former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him — rhetoric that worries some fellow Republicans, who warn that their colleagues are riling up the biggest fans of the former president. That still-simmering discord within the GOP puts party leaders in an awkward position ahead of the Sept. 18 “Justice for J6” rally on Capitol Hill, organized by a former Trump campaign aide.
So far, top Republicans are staying as quiet as possible about the Sept. 18 protest on the Hill, which has prompted police officials to re-install the Capitol security fence to safeguard against potential violence. They aren’t endorsing it — nor are they condemning it. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Monday that out of his Republican conference, he “doesn’t think anyone is” going to attend. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not respond to a question about whether leaders should be encouraging other rank-and-file members not to attend as he headed to a briefing on the rally.
Their approach appears to be working, as no Republican lawmakers have publicly said they will attend — even some who have repeatedly and publicly claimed some Jan. 6 defendants are “political prisoners” being treated unfairly because of their political views. However, the offices of Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) — all of whom have peddled the “political prisoners” claim repeatedly — have declined multiple requests for comment about whether they plan to appear.
Amid the waiting game, some influential conservatives are trying to change the subject; Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said Monday that he wouldn’t attend the rally and didn’t “know anything about it.” Others are shrugging off the question of whether Republicans should appear; Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said it was “none of my business.”
One GOP lawmaker in a safe red seat spoke candidly on condition of anonymity about the conundrum facing the party ahead of the rally in support of some insurrection defendants: “The majority of the Republican base feels that Jan. 6 was justified. And because those people didn’t have arms, they shouldn’t be incarcerated right now.”
“Every day, I hear the word ‘Civil War’ — every day,” the Republican added, recalling a return home one day after Trump supporters descended on the Capitol. This lawmaker expected sympathy and disgust about the attack on Congress and instead heard constituents commenting in support.
Other Capitol Hill offices reported similar calls from constituents who insisted the rioters did not go far enough in the weeks after the attack, which included more than 1,000 violent acts against law enforcement and is tied to multiple deaths of rallygoers as well as police officers.
Prosecutors have charged multiple defendants with carrying guns to the Capitol on Jan. 6, including a former DEA agent who flashed his service weapon for the camera. Hundreds of rioters brandished other weapons — knives, poles, clubs, bats, bear mace and even hockey sticks and a crutch — many of which were used in assaults on police.
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